A red 2020 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E is driving down a city street.

What Makes the Honda Ridgeline the Perfect Pickup for Car Drivers?

For car drivers like myself, the prospect of buying a pickup truck can be somewhat intimidating. Owning a truck is its own subculture that can make it feel like you are wasting your time if you aren’t obsessed with power and towing. However, anyone could find value in having the versatility to carry large and heavy cargo, and the rugged capability of a pickup can be useful no matter what your lifestyle. So how do car drivers find the right truck for them? The 2020 Honda Ridgeline is the answer.

Framed for Success

The 2020 Honda Ridgeline is the second generation of Honda’s solution to provide SUV and car drivers with a pickup truck that gives them what they are used to in drive and comfort quality with the added capability of a midsize pickup. So what makes this truck different from the competition? The frame of the truck is actually not your standard build for a truck. The Ridgeline is built on the same basic frame as the Honda Odyssey minivan, so it is more like a very large and heavy SUV with a truck bed attached. Some have called the Ridgeline an SUV dressed up in a truck costume, but as far as I’m concerned, that isn’t a bad thing.

The Ridgeline’s unibody frame is what you usually expect from cars and SUVs, where the frame and body are a single unit. Trucks traditionally are built as a body-on-frame structure, where the body is a separate piece from the frame. The Ridgeline has the unibody connected to the floor panels, which are welded to the boxed frame rail underneath. Conventional wisdom would caution that this kind of construction could lead to the truck snapping in half if the load in the bed is too great, but the chief engineer McClure assures that Honda has worked around it.

“In the bed, there is a truss-like structure that connects the side of the bed to the cabin. It isn’t just supported by the frame on the bottom like a traditional body-on-frame would be. We have additional structure that goes up the sides and provides more structure than a traditional truck would have.” This feat of design allows for overall flexibility while maintaining frame rigidity. This does result in some lost towing and payload strength, but for traditional car drivers who don’t necessarily need to rely on this truck for a heavy lifting lifestyle, the capability of the Ridgeline is more than enough.

A silver 2020 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E is driving through the mud with a dirt bike in the bed.

Towing the Line on Drive Quality

For all the considerable strengths of midsize pickups, what they universally lack is comfortable drive quality. You feel rough roads as the cabin bounces up and down, and with some pickups, certain turns can make it feel like you are driving a bus. While the Ridgeline doesn’t handle like a sports car by any means, if you are used to driving an SUV or minivan, you’re likely to feel right in your element.

Handling is not super engaging, but it is smoother than the average truck. It tends to drive like an Odyssey with a much higher seat position. You may find that you have a hard time keeping track of where your front wheels are pointed, but nevertheless taking turns and roundabouts will be a lot easier than in other trucks of this class. And with the independent rear suspension, you won’t feel the jostling of the truck bed up in the cabin nearly as strongly as you would in a normal pickup truck design.

Cabin Fever

The comfort of the drive doesn’t end with just the handling and suspension, either. The interior, while somewhat outdated in terms of style, feels exceedingly comfortable, continuing Honda’s mission to make car drivers feel at home in the cabin of this truck. The seats come with quality leather, and select trims such as the Black Edition even come with contrasting stitching to help give it a sleek and sinister look.

The cabin is also packed with infotainment technology in the Honda touchscreen set in the center console. The best feature of this is the built-in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which work smoothly without any issues. It also comes with Honda onboard satellite navigation systems. This is something of a double-edged sword as it is convenient, but the touchscreen interface can be sluggish and unintuitive to navigate as it is still the older model that lacks a physical volume dial and updated software.

Luckily, even if the volume touch slider is annoying to deal with, the sound system is great quality and even comes with a super awesome feature not present in any other truck – truck bed speakers. It is hard to translate how cool it is in writing, but trust me when I tell you that the truck bed speakers will be the first thing you want to show your friends once you get the Ridgeline. Be warned – it can get crazy loud. It isn’t just waterproof speakers built-in, but the sound system actually uses the bed frame to create sound! It is some next-level creative engineering that is one of my favorite features of the 2020 Ridgeline and will be sure to impress at your first tailgate party.

A black 2020 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition is parked outside a restaurant.

SUV Safety Features

The Ridgeline is also equipped with the Honda Sensing Suite. The safety sensor suite is designed to assist the driver notice hazards with enough time to respond. This includes the Collision Mitigation Braking System, which detects if there is an obstruction such as another vehicle or unexpected pedestrian and automatically applies brake pressure to stop the truck. There is also the Road Departure Mitigation System, which detects if you leave your lane without signaling and will alert you and shift you back into place if needed.

What Makes a Truck?

I’ve spent most of the time writing about how the Ridgeline basically feels and acts like an SUV or car, but at the end of the day, you’re getting this to be a truck. And while not nearly as powerful as some of its cousins in the class, the Ridgeline should be able to handle your needs. It doesn’t have overwhelming numbers: towing capacity is 5,000 lbs, and the payload maxes out at around 1,500 lbs. If you gave those numbers to a super-duty fanatic, they would probably laugh in your face, but if you are just looking for versatility, how often will you need more than two tons of towing?

The truck bed is fairly short but it is equipped with several tie-downs and panels with power outlets that can be turned on from the cabin. There is also a super convenient lockable weatherproof trunk space under the bed with room for the spare tire and more. The tailgate has dual action hinges that allow it to fold down as is normal, but it can also swing open from the side.

Under the hood, the Ridgeline is loaded with a 3.5L V6 gas engine with a standard 9-speed automatic transmission. It can push out 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. As with some of the other numbers on the Ridgeline, the power won’t blow anyone away, but for a car driver, these are more than enough. Unfortunately, it’s fuel economy isn’t as spectacular as one might hope from such an innovative pickup. While good for the class, the Ridgeline gets around 19 MPG city and 26 MPG highway. Decent numbers for a pickup, but considering how many qualities of a car the Ridgeline has, I had kind of hoped fuel efficiency would be one of them.

The Car Driver’s Pickup

The Honda Ridgeline is the perfect choice for car or SUV drivers that want the available strength of a pickup but don’t need all of the trappings of a traditional truck. With the 2020 Honda Ridgeline, you can have your cake and eat it too. With an MSRP starting at $33,900, this midsize pickup is changing the way people are thinking of trucks and what role they play for drivers. It will be fascinating to see if other manufacturers pick up on this trend in the years to come.